Tribe allowed to farm hapuku

Ngai Tahu Seafoods Ltd has approval to start New Zealand's first commercial hapuku fish farm.

The company has a consent to add hapuku to its mussel farm at Beatrix Bay in Pelorus Sound.

The decision was made by Marlborough District Council commissioner Richard Fowler.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) had bred enough juvenile hapuku (groper) to supply the first commercial farmers, its chief scientist Andrew Forsythe told the council hearing on May 10.

The application was to farm fin-fish in 29 cages alongside mussels on a 14-hectare farm.

Twelve other fish species including king salmon, crayfish and sea cucumbers were included, but Mr Fowler said the proposal was geared around commercial harvesting of hapuku.

If they wanted to farm anything other than hapuku, compliance issues would almost certainly arise, he said.

Ngai Tahu Seafood chief executive Brian Moriarty said yesterday he could not discuss the decision until next week.

At the hearing, Ngai Tahu Seafood aquaculture manager Mervyn Whipp said his company was exploring commercial opportunities and working with Niwa on techniques for farming hapuku.

Hapuku converted feed more efficiently than salmon so would produce less waste, Mr Whipp said.

Niwa chief scientist Andrew Forsythe told the hearing that if Ngai Tahu became the first commercial hapuku farmer, Niwa would do field research on the farm.

"Ngai Tahu would thereby enjoy scientific and technical support which would not normally be afforded to routine commercial farming operations," Mr Forsythe said.

Conditions set by Mr Fowler require that before placing sea cages, Ngai Tahu must survey the original condition of the seabed, including describing species living beneath and alongside the sites, seasonal variations in water conditions and the size of any fluctuations.

This baseline study must also describe long-term monitoring sites and methods.

After stocking the cages, Ngai Tahu must monitor ecology in the area from October to November each year and report results to the council.

The company must also provide a biosecurity management plan describing species to be farmed and pest monitoring and management.

Conditions limit the company to feeding out up to 1000 tonnes of pellets in the first year, increasing to 2000 tonnes a year for the remainder of the consent if standards were met.

The council could request any Ngai Tahu reports be audited, at the company's expense.

Consent lasts until the end of 2024.

However, it will expire if not taken up by June 2015.

No-one had appealed the decision, which was released on June 15, a council spokeswoman said yesterday.

The Marlborough Express